When I wrote about the case of Officer Michael Slager and the shooting of Walter Scott last year I allowed that Slager deserved his day in court like any accused person, but that it was almost undoubtedly going to wind up in a conviction. There was little to no evidence to support his story aside from the possibility of some of Scott’s DNA being on the taser from their initial scuffle and the video of the actual shooting showed something which was essentially indefensible. To top it all off, Slager was shown compromising the crime scene by picking up the taser and moving it over to drop it next to Scott’s body. I still doubt any jury would let him go at this point.
His trial is still to come, but Slager now has another round of legal issues to worry about. A federal grand jury has charged him with a variety of civil rights violations, at least one of which has the potential to carry the death penalty.
The former South Carolina police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott as he fled a traffic stop last year was indicted by a federal grand jury that charged him with a civil rights violation.
In the indictment filed Tuesday, the grand jury accuses Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, of depriving Scott of his rights under color of law. The grand jury said that when Slager shot Scott “without legal justification” in April 2015, he took away his constitutional right “to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.”
Slager is also charged with obstruction of justice, with the grand jury saying that he knowingly misled state investigators by telling them that that Scott, who was not armed, was approaching him with a Taser. He was also charged with one count of using a weapon during “a felony crime of violence.”
The feds can, in theory, ask for the death penalty over civil rights violations, but thus far everyone seems to be talking about a life sentence. That leads us to the only real question I have about this decision. Why take this to a grand jury when the state was already charging him with murder and seeking a life sentence in the same case? I’m not arguing that the charges aren’t warranted. While presumed innocent until proven guilty, if there’s ever been a case of flat out murder against a cop this certainly looks like it. But you typically see the feds stepping in when the state either fails to act or only moves on charges less than what the feds would be looking for. (Obviously that’s not always the case, but there are limited resources to go around and if the state is doing the job there’s less urgency to handle it at the federal level.) I can only speculate that since this was a case of a white cop shooting a black suspect, the Justice Department may have wanted to put an exclamation point on the case and show that they’re taking the police shooting discussion seriously.
Either way, absent some seriously shocking piece of evidence which we’ve not seen, Slager will get what he seems to deserve. Walter Scott was overweight and slow, jogging away from Slager at a pace which wouldn’t have gotten him very far before backup arrived. Shooting him multiple times in the back from more than fifteen feet away was inexcusable. And to compound matters, for every case out there like Slager’s it makes it all the worse on the PR front for the good cops who get caught up in very bad, extraordinary circumstances and are forced into justified lethal encounters. Michael Slager doesn’t need to pay for anyone else’s sins, but assuming he is found guilty it’s important that he pay for his own.